DateFriday 1 September 2006

Sick paper’s evil stunt prank headline shock er, evilness, is out of date

Quite frequently I look at tabloid (OK, downmarket) papers and wonder whether there isn’t a huge disconnect between the people who write them – and particularly the people who edit them – and the people who the previous group think are going to read them.

Take this example, where the deputy news editor on the Bolton Evening News chugged through YouTube in search of “local content” (mm-hmm) and came across some footage that some kids had shot of themselves chucking a bike onto some rail tracks.

Here’s what the news editor James Higgins told the site (or possibly told the BEN’s PR, it’s not clear:

“We are always trying to come up with new ways of letting our readers know what is going on in Bolton and this is a perfect example of thinking outside the box.

“We were also able to tie it in with our website with a link to the video which could be seen for several hours until it was withdrawn from YouTube by the youths later in the day.”

OK. Now, can you guess what the headline was on the story? No? Remember, this is approved by people for whom phrases like “thinking outside the box” come easily.


To me, that’s an insulting headline – insulting to the reader. It assumes that the reader will agree that’s a “sick” prank and moreover it doesn’t give the reader any ownership of the story. It presents the verdict on the kids (being kids, if stupid ones). It’s demotic and pointless.

It’s interesting to contrast that with Roy Greenslade’s assertion that

regional and local journalism is just not good enough to retain readers let alone win new ones. I am not arguing that everything is worse than it was years ago in some entirely mythical golden age (though I’d be happy to debate that possibility too). What I mean is that newspapers have failed to raise their game in the face of competition from elsewhere.

Absolutely. You’d not find anywhere else where that YouTube video would attract the words “sick prank” (except where sick was used hyperbolically; climbers will call a route “sick hard”, as in hard++).

Headlines like that deserve to die. But it seems they are – people aren’t buying the papers that carry them. That sound you hear in the background is one hand applauding – I’m happy to see them go, but not if they’re replaced by ignorance and indifference to anything at all.

Immerse yourself in AOL’s Google searches! Be sure to wash afterwards!

OK, I’ve cracked the problem of loading the data from the AOL/Google searches (gazillions of keywords and search results) into my laptop’s MySQL database. Ignore the next paragraph if you’re not trying to, and get onto the meaty stuff.

(The secret: you have to do it with the MySQL terminal. The format for the loading command: load data local infile '/Users/charles/Documents/AOL/AOL-user-ct-collection/user-ct-test-collection-02.txt' into table aol.searches ignore 1 lines (anonid, query, querytime, itemrank, clickurl);. Obviously, your path will vary. But the key things are the load data local, ignore 1 lines (the files have a header line) and the brackets with the column names.)

It’s working away, loading the second third fourth of the 10 files as I speak.

And it’s a truly weird place. Really, really weird. Completely at random from the ones where people clicked on a URL that was more than 300 down the results list:

  • Women's bare feet” (one of the results clicked on was for Bare feet in space?)
  • human growth and development courses for 3 credits online” (that person clicked on 11 results beyond the 300 mark)
  • beastailty” (seven clicks; pity none of them was “dictionary”, though perhaps by then Google says something like “Did you mean… oh, never mind”)
  • the man who did the bullet catch on national television and later died of a heart attack in germany” (you have to mine past 300 results to find out about him?)
  • and perhaps the most marvellous:

  • i am tired of spam now how do i make money online“. Beats me, sir or madam.

Two Three files, and I have …lots of rows. Now just have to write the PHP interface to query this… steaming pile of information.

We are weirder than we know, and Google knows it. Does Google still have that wall where you can see real-time searches? I think you’d need a shower afterwards. Browsing this stuff is like seeing the human spirit being slowly stripped away to the primal beast beneath.

Addendum: how very rude of me – I should, of course, have linked to Andrew’s brilliant piece on the Google data seen from the personal side. (My article concentrates on the impersonal data.) The opening paragraph, just in case you haven’t read it:

In March this year, a man with a passion for Portuguese football, living in a city in Florida, was drinking heavily because his wife was having an affair. He typed his troubles into the search window of his computer. “My wife doesnt love animore,” he told the machine. He searched for “Stop your divorce” and “I want revenge to my wife” before turning to self-examination with “alchool withdrawl”, “alchool withdrawl sintoms” (at 10 in the morning) and “disfunctional erection”. On April 1 he was looking for a local medium who could “predict my futur”.

From there.. oh, read it.

What the 42-years-deaf person said about her cochlear implant

After 42 years, woman hears for the first time popped up on Digg (here’s the Digg discussion, for what it’s worth – that is, not a lot).

Quotes from the story:

Initially there were deep concerns in the deaf community about the surgery. Some feared it would further define deafness as something broken that needed to be fixed.

This philosophical concern was diminished by the practical benefits of cochlear implants. Recipients were widely reporting the benefits to other deaf people. It worked too well to be argued away.

A second concern was more emotional. Some feared people with the implants would leave the deaf community and start identifying themselves as part of the hearing world.

Collins was well aware of all the debates. She did research, she spoke to friends and colleagues and doctors and ultimately found the decision not difficult.

“Since the initial controversy in the deaf community years ago, we have found that deaf people who become implanted don’t leave the deaf community,” she said. “They become deaf people with cochlear implants.”

The reason why Sherri Collins was aware about the controversy: she’s executive director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

If she’s happy to have an implant, that seems like a good argument to me.

“I am most looking forward to hearing speech. Speech with clarity and nuance. And music. And to be able to understand the radio,” Collins said.

Yes, radio for the deaf is one of those definitions you’d use about other stuff.